Desperately Seeking an ERM Librarian


Class, in this week's lecture, I will:

  • help frame the readings for this week
  • discuss the readings, and
  • list some questions to guide our discussion for the week.

Our goal this week is to understand how the job of electronic resource management has changed throughout the years and to develop an idea about where we are headed as we go forward.

Frame the Readings

This week we read two articles that analyze electronic resource librarian job advertisements. You will also see that in the reading list for this week, I also provide a link to the NASIG core competencies page for electronic resource librarianship. It might be helpful to review this page before you engage the readings so that you have the right background knowledge ahead of time.

These readings are of interest since they capture a description of electronic resource librarianship that is continually evolving. They are not dated even though electronic resource management is constantly evolving with the technology. There are too many social, political, and economic conditions that have stayed about the same and these fixed conditions fix the work of the ERM librarian, who is, nevertheless, adapting to new technologies and work flows. Our Murdoch reading makes this point.

Thus, though the technology has advanced (or at least changed), the descriptions and duties of ER jobs are still on the mark. I posted links to current job announcements in the discussion forum to help support this argument. The job announcements were emailed via the SERIALST email list and are not current job openings, but they were current within the last three years. To stay current about the position overall, about the specific duties involved, I encourage you to bookmark and stay abreast of relevant journals in the area. In addition to the two titles we're reading this week, pay attention and bookmark the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship.

Discuss the Readings

A big change since 2012, when Harnett's research ends, is that technology has moved to the cloud, and we manage less technology on on-site servers, where those servers might be managed by library IT (or other IT). This has had substantial implications and I think we should hypothesize about what they may be. One implication is libraries will require fewer local, advanced IT skill sets on hand because the work of installing, maintaining, and updating the software will reside on remote systems hosted by the vendors instead of at on-site locations. Although I state this as a hypothesis, we already know that this statement rings true for some of you. This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing---at the very least it indicates a shift in the skills needed by librarians and not necessarily a loss. Along those lines, we can state another hypothesis: it could mean other skill sets become more dominant. Specifically, hosted software means the software isn't purchased but leased, and leasing involves outside vendors who must have the technological skill sets need to manage the technology. But it also means negotiations between librarians and those vendors. Thus, the kind of work that may increase, as more software is hosted on the cloud, might be the kind of work requiring strong communication skills, strong negotiating skills, a good understanding of how licensing works as more is licensed, a good understanding of copyright and contract law work, a good understanding of how electronic resource collections work and interoperate across platforms, and more. However, again, this can be complicated. Last year there was an email on the SERIALT listserv by a librarian that asked whether librarians have retained or hold negotiating and contract signing powers, and the responses were mixed. Some librarians had the jurisdiction but many had lost it. Even under this scenario, though, technological understanding is still necessary in order to negotiate the best deal for a library's stakeholders and to acquire the best and most seamless product needed by library users.

Even though IT continues to be outsourced, this doesn't mean that we can become lax in our understanding of how the technology works---that which requires a thorough understanding of the electronic in electronic resources---just as we can't become lax in how librarianship works even though librarians answer fewer reference questions than they did in previous years (i.e., you still need to know how to respond systematically and thoroughly to research and reference questions). What I mean is that, in order to communicate this topic well, to negotiate well, and to sign licenses that are beneficial to our stakeholders, it helps to understand and be adept at the tech so that we are not bamboozled in those negotiations. Also, if something goes wrong, like with the link resolver technology, we have to learn how to identify the likely culprit; that is, whether the technological issue is the link resolver technology and not something else, like the OPAC technology.

This week I want you to think about these job advertisement studies in relation to what you know now about electronic resources as well as in relation to the kinds of advertisements you've seen since whenever you started paying attention to them. By the time this lecture is released you may have seen some job ads sent out on the SERIALST mailing list that I've asked you to subscribe to this semester (and as mentioned above, in case none have been forwarded while you've been subscribed, I'll share some that I've seen). Some of you may be graduating soon and are looking for employment. If so, feel free to comment on your experience with such advertisements. In essence, think about where you see yourself in these advertisements and how they impact you. Alternatively, some of you already have jobs in libraries---those may be considered also, in hindsight.

Although you may have only learned about these technologies that are discussed in these readings in the abstract, as many of you have noted in your course introductions, it might be the case that most of you haven't had a chance to learn the electronic resource back ends, that doesn't disqualify you from our attempts to start reflecting on this part of librarianship. As library users of these technologies, you have gathered enough abstract knowledge to know enough, and when you add to this front end knowledge (that is, your use of these technologies as students, users, etc.), you have enough to be capable of adding some self-context. In short, this is the second part of our exercise in self-reflection; it's an attempt to flush out how we have internalized the information we'll learn this semester and convert it into knowledge that we can use as librarians or as information professionals, writ-large. Just a hint of what's to come in the future, we will use and get some exposure to electronic resource management software in an upcoming week.

Questions for Discussion

We'll soon move away from reflective questions and get our hands dirty with specific technologies, licensing, etc., but for now let's reflect on the following questions:

  • Where do you think you stand in comparison to ERM job ads and to NASIG Core Competencies?
    • Where are you strong?
    • Where would you like to improve?
  • What can you (and we, as a course community) do to help each of you get there?
    • What's your path?
    • What can you practice?